It wasn’t pretty, but North Carolina is headed to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
The No. 6 seed Tar Heels narrowly turned back an upset bid from the No. 11 seed Providence Friars on Friday night in San Antonio, coming from behind for a 79-77 win.
With the victory, the Tar Heels advance to the third round of the East Region, where they’ll face the winner of No. 3 seed Iowa State and No. 14 seed North Carolina Central on Sunday.
North Carolina (24-9) has to be breathing a sigh of relief after this one. They just couldn’t put the Friars away in the first half or early in the second, allowing them to hang around and nearly send them home early.
Ultimately, it would be the Tar Heels utter domination on the glass that would push them to victory, but it wasn’t without its share of dicey moments.
And it came despite the tremendous individual performance from Friars guard Bryce Cotton, who finished with a game and career-high 36 points.
Providence (23-12) took the lead on a Cotton jumper with just over eight minutes to play in the game. The shot capped an astonishing, and sudden, 11-2 Friars run that had North Carolina back on their heels.
The Friars would lead by as much as six in the closing minutes, and led 77-74 with just 1:21 to play after Cotton connected on a triple, his third of the night.
But Marcus Paige, who finished with 19 points, quickly answered on the other end with a three of his own.
With just three seconds left, and the game tied at 77, James Michael McAdoo was fouled and went to the line with a chance to put his team in front.
McAdoo, a 54-percent shooter from the line this season, connected on the first and missed the second. But Providence failed to box out, and he snatched his own rebound effectively sealing the deal.
Rebounding was a killer for the Friars all night, and they beat on the glass by a wide 40-26 margin, including a lopsided 21-9 edge for Carolina on the offensive glass.
He would once again make the first and miss the second, but the ensuing rebound went off of Cotton’s hands and out of bounds, giving North Carolina a victory in a game that very easily could’ve gone the other way.
The Tar Heels were led by Paige with 19 and McAdoo with 16 points.